Tuesday, June 30, 2009
by Billy Collins
Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
"What is the poet trying to say?"
as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts—
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.
Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail
but we in Mrs. Parker's third-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed
with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.
Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,
not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows--the drizzle and the
So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students—a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards—
to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.
"The Effort" by Billy Collins, from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008.
PS - You should go to today's Writer's Almanac page for a very interesting story on Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Jon and Kate plus Eight minus Jon and Kate
Before getting to all of the death and dying I want to say one thing – I could not possibly care less about Jon and Kate. Honestly. I do care, though, about the world we live in, and the fact that these D-list reality show celebrities shot to the headlines of every major news organization because of an alleged affair and a divorce is a sad, sad commentary on our society. I get most of my news online, and ABC, MSNBC, CNN have all had them in their top line up ever since Jon was spotted with that girl. Lame. Really lame.
Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and now Michael Jackson. I think my brother Shane said it best – “it’s started”. His wife asked him what he meant, and he said that our era is dying. Isn’t that strange? I remember my mom going through it when all of her favorites from the 50s and 60s passed away. Now it’s our turn. We grew up with these people. Who hasn’t dreamt of Ed McMahon showing up on their doorstep with one of those giant checks? Heck, I still do. He could come back from heaven and give me money. And Farrah’s pinup poster/t-shirt, I have a clear image in my mind of being a little girl walking into K-Mart with my mom, and seeing a man wearing that t-shirt. I liked to flip through the poster displays, and hers was always there.
And Michael Jackson, his death has blown my mind. What a shock. The truth is I’ve been sad about Michael for a long time now. I was never a big Jackson fan. I think I’ve come to appreciate his talent more in recent years when I’ve seen clips of his days with the Jackson 5 – he was 10, 11 years old and amazing on stage. But as a teenager I was more into Def Leppard than pop. That’s right – Def Leppard. Still, no one who was alive in the 80s could live without knowing how huge he was. I was 13 when Thriller came out, and Michael was everywhere. His fame was too big for words, and for good reason. The man was a music and performance genius.
But it’s sad that his weird antics over the last decade have smeared his image, and people’s memories of how good he was – what a waste. The criminal trials didn’t help, either. I don’t know why he got so weird, or if he was guilty of all of those allegations, but I do think that no one could grow up with that kind of fame and not be messed up by it (I have the same theory about Britney Spears). It’s interesting though, the news I’ve seen since yesterday afternoon has talked more about his Thriller days, and his talent and influence on pop culture, than about all the bad stuff. I suppose that’s normal when a person dies, but it’s nice to know that the good stuff isn’t forgotten. He really was good.
Today I took the best facebook quiz ever – how long would you live in a fight with Chuck Norris? The questions asked me to pick a weapon, a means of attack, what I would wear, and a super power. I went with a light saber. It seems to me that a person could just wildly swing a light saber in any direction without knowing what she’s doing and still fight off an opponent. They burn right through flesh. My means of attack was to jump out “screaming like an angry koala”. It’s the element of surprise. I’d also be wearing a Barney costume and have lasers coming out of my eyes. What the crazy?! And I would live for .02 seconds. Here’s what the synopsis said, “God heard that you were supposed to fight Chuck Norris and so He sent the angel of death to kill you before hand, because HE is so merciful. It was better to die by the hand of God than by the foot of Chuck Norris. AMEN!” Yeah, that is better.
I also got to pick what to put on my tombstone, “There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Chuck Norris lives in Oklahoma”.
I think that’s it for now. Thanks, as always, for sharing the blogging world with me.
You are loved.
Monday, June 22, 2009
My great-grandfather Ole Sivertson was born in Norway and immigrated with his wife to Minnesota in the late 1800s. Garrison Keillor once said that the Norwegian immigrants came to Minnesota having forgotten that they left their homeland in search of something better. What they got was pretty much the same as what they left - long, sub-zero winters. Grandpa Ole (yes, every man born in Norway is named Ole) and his wife Berit settled in central Minnesota and started dairy farming. My grandpa Olaf was their 12th and youngest child. Their farm house and barn survived long after the family had grown up and gone. When I was a kid, we'd drive over to the old place and walk around it. The barn had a huge stone foundation that reached almost halfway up the walls. It was awesome. The house was small, with a living room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. It was recently moved onto a historical site in Dalton, MN, and is set up with pictures of the family. It's very cool. Next time I'm there I'll get some pictures to share with you.
Grandpa Olaf married Corinne Jorgenson and started a dairy farm of their own. My dad, Owen, is the oldest of their 9 children. Here he is with his mother and younger brother, Dad is the little boy standing by grandma, and wearing some great coveralls.
Dad is the in the center in this picture. His father is to the right (look how much they look alike), and the his brother is on the left.
Dad loved his childhood, and always said that it was the perfect lifestyle for him.
My grandpa lived on that farm until he died, so we spent a lot of time there when I was a kid. My cousins and I played in the barn and fields, sometimes Dad would walk around with us and tell stories. They really had a wonderful way of life, one that is practically gone now.
Not too many years ago when I was home, we went to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried to visit their graves. Dad and I walked all over the grounds, and he knew the names on almost every stone, and could tell me something about them. It was emotional, not that there were tears, but more that I could feel his respect for those people and for his home. That place is as much a part of him as his bones and blood are. It's taken me my whole life to understand that, but I'm starting to. People in those communities lived a pretty hard life; so much work, tough work, and harsh winters. But they worked together, and created a bond that still exists in those who lived it.
Dad is a smart man, and could have done many things with his life, but farming is his love, and so that's what we did. He met mom in Wichita, Kansas while stationed there with the Air Force (in those days all young men were required to serve some time in the military), and after finishing his time there they went back to Minnesota. We lived a few different places before settling on the 12 acre plot where I grew up. We had cattle, pigs, goats, geese, chickens, horses and mice. Not all at the same time, and we didn't want the mice, didn't have much of a choice. We also had a huge garden. Many acres of garden. Man did I complain about working in that garden. When I look back on it now, though, there's something that stands out, and that is that Dad was usually working with us, and often we'd stop what we were doing and talk. I remember one afternoon in particular. We were hoeing weeds. We stopped, I put my foot on the blade of the hoe and leaned against the stick, and talked about the Korean war and Vietnam. Sounds like a strange thing to chat about, but a lot of our conversations were historical or political. Of course I didn't have anything to add, I just listened, but what a great way to spend the afternoon, standing barefoot in the cool black dirt listening to my dad.
One more thing to mention, and I think that I've talked about this before, Dad read to me. We read a lot. At night he would sit on my bed and read something. Or, I'd sit on his lap in our big rocking chair and read. That was the beginning of my love for books, and I am so glad to have it.
Dad taught me lots of things, to many to put here. I'm really grateful for the way I grew up. I'm grateful for what farm life gave to me and to my siblings. I'm grateful that my parents joined the Church and raised us with it. I've had a good life.
Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you very much.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Biographies are very interesting. It’s pretty remarkable what some people have lived through or have done. This week I started reading a biography on Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII of England, and mother of Queen Elizabeth I. I bought it in London at the Westminster Abby shop a year ago, and am finally getting to it. So far it’s very good. I happen to think that Anne Boleyn played a very, very important part in our history. Henry VIII broke with the Pope and the Catholic Church in order to get a divorce and then marry Anne. That doesn’t sound like a nice thing to do to his poor first wife, but it was the beginnings of the religious reformation in England. Eventually religious groups like the Puritans and the Separatists popped up, and some of those Separatists got on the Mayflower and sailed to Massachusetts. And, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth was queen of England for about 40 years. During that time, Spain attacked England partly because they hated the Protestant heretics and the queen; England beat the Spanish Armada, became a world naval power, and over time started setting up colonies. Consider that! Isn’t it interesting? One person’s life (which by the way ended badly, she couldn’t have known that anything good would come of it) affected all of this.
It’s like that old visual of ripples in the water. You never know what influence you might have, or how far it can reach.
Girls, I’m tired, and feeling burnt out and uninspired. I honestly can’t think of anything more to write this week. It’s my first full week back at work since going to Minnesota and having family here, and I had an extra shift at the bookstore, and man am I worn out. So, I’m going to keep this short, mostly because this is all I’ve got.
Would you like to see my favorite dance from this week’s SYTYCD show? Here it is.
Thanks, as always, for the blogosphere fun.
You are loved.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I’ve taken loads of facebook quizzes, and have never known myself better. For example, if I were a character from a classic novel, I’d be Elizabeth Bennet of "Pride and Prejudice". My designer label is Louis Vuitton, and my cosmetics soul mate is Dior.
If I were to be spirited away to the magical land of Middle Earth to play a role in the Lord of the Rings, which could totally happen, I’d totally be Frodo. Or, if I get the chance to go to Hogwarts I’ll go as Hermione Granger. Transformer – Optimus Prime. Of course I’m Optimus Prime, he’s the leader of the autobots, who are the good guys, and he totally kicks ***. What else would I be?
Ever wanted to now what band instrument best displays your personality? Facebook will tell you. I happen to be a clarinet. My personality's color is also available - a nice shade of melon.
Debra Messing should play me in the movie about my life. Finally I’d have red, curly hair! My Euro-persona is British, as it should be, and my birth number is 3, which means that I’m an idealist, very creative, social, charming, romantic, and easygoing. I’m left-brained, according to the brain game. Left-brained people tend to be analytical, logical and rational. How does that fit in with idealist and romantic? I don’t know, but it’s got to be right. I took a quiz!
The first facebook quiz I took had something to do with which celebrity you are, or are most like, and my answer was Will Smith. I was surprised to learn that I am a black man, and after some serious thought I decided that maybe those results aren't exactly on. Seriously, I’ve taken all of these quizzes with a grain of salt ever since. It is fun to go through the questions and find out “who you are”. I don’t mind being compared to Elizabeth Bennet, or Optimus Prime, but Louis Vuitton? No, that’s not me. None of it’s really me.
I have to admit, though, I do think that I would like Maine.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I almost got a little boy!
Last week when Court, Andrea and the kids where staying with me, I joked a few times with Spencer and Drew that by the end of the week I would pick one of them to stay and live with me. They have three kids now, they can give me one. Spencer caught on to this idea, and several times during the week stopped what he was doing and asked Drew if he wanted to be the one to stay. “Drew, do you want to stay here and live with Angie?” It was funny at first – his timing was great. If Drew was acting up or getting whiny, then Spencer would suggest that he live with me. And he wasn’t saying it like a threat, he was quite serious.
After a few days, Andrea and I began to wonder if Spencer really was trying to unload Drew. It sounded to us like he was making a real effort to convince Drew that the new arrangement would be better for everyone. Little sneak. So I finally told him nicely but directly that all three children belonged with their parents, that no one was going to live with me, and that Drew needed to stay with his family. He took it pretty well, and gave up on his campaign. I’m still laughing about it, though. That’s going to be funny for a while.
My dear Watson
I just finished my first Sherlock Holmes novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. It was pretty good. I did not know that Watson is the narrator of the Holmes stories. It’s written in first person from Watson’s point of view. I like Watson – he’s a good sort and gives balance to Holmes. I also read the short bio on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the book, and learned that he started writing Holmes stories for the money. He didn’t really like writing them, and at one point was so sick of the whole thing that he killed Holmes off. The public outrage was such that he was forced to write another book bringing Sherlock back again. So interesting. This story is a good one, and short and easy to read. I think you’d like it.
So much rain
We have had A LOT of rain this spring. Those of you who live here know what I’m talking about. I, for one, have loved it! Last week the family and I took one drive up to Snowbird and another to Park City, and we could not believe how green the mountains were. It’s really beautiful. And the temperatures have been pleasant. I’d be ok if it never hit 100 degrees this year. I’ve always missed the green grass and trees of Minnesota, but I love the mountains, and so have often wished that we could have green mountains. That would be the best of both worlds! Well this year we’ve got it.
On Wednesday I was driving home. There was a break in the rain, and some of the clouds had settled low in the valley along the mountains. It’s gorgeous when that happens. I took this picture while driving. I wish I could have gotten a better shot, but this gives you an idea.
I stopped typing to go down to the cafeteria, and on the way ran into Elder Bednar. And then I rode with Elder Holland in the elevator coming back again! I’m always too shy to say much to them. Sometimes I’m tempted to ask one to read my future, but that seems a bit forward. I don’t want to treat them like celebrities. That would be annoying. Still, I would like some names and dates associated with important events…?
So You Think You Can Dance
I know, it’s a cheesy competition reality show, but I love it! And I’m so happy it’s back. We’re still in the very beginnings of this year’s series, so it’s not too late to get hooked. Then we could talk about it! Wouldn’t that be fun? One of the things that I like about this show is that the dancers are all from different dance genres – contemporary, hip hop, ballroom, ballet, but they have to learn how to do anything. Each week they pick a new style out of the hat and have to pull it together. Fascinating.
Did you know that I used to dance? There are really no signs of it now, but I did ballet for years when I was a teenager. We did a big show every spring, and I played the wicked stepmother in Cinderella in the last show I did. It really was wonderful. I loved all the prep work, and the performing – all of it was great.
I found this video from SYTYCD on YouTube. It’s a contemporary piece from a few seasons ago, and one of my favorites ever. Hope you enjoy.
Thanks, as always, for being my friends.
You are loved.
Monday, June 8, 2009
I was at work last Tuesday, so Andrea and the kids came downtown to be tourists, and then met me for lunch. At lunch, Spencer showed me many of the very expressive faces that he can pull. Here's his fighting face:
A scared face:
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Mount Rushmore is beautiful. If you ever have a chance to see it, take that chance. Here are some pictures:
Wait, grrrrr! Why does blogger always download the pictures backwards and in the wrong order! Sorry, let's try this again.
First, here's my new niece. Isn't she pretty?
This is the view from the Grand Terrace. It is grand.
My parents got into town today, and the big party for Sierra's graduation is tomorrow. So much fun. More next week.